ON THIS DATE (20TH MARCH) 76 YEARS AGO : 21 IRA PRISONERS ESCAPE FROM DERRY JAIL.
Early on Saturday morning, 20th March 1943 – 76 years ago on this date – as the Logue family of Harding Street, Derry, were about to sit down for their breakfast, they noticed a part of their small garden rising up and being pushed back – their garden wall formed part of the perimeter of a neighbouring premises, Derry Jail : a figure pulled himself up from the hole in the ground and began assisting others that were trying to scramble to their feet. Within minutes there were 21 men assembled in the small garden, all of whom rushed into the Logue house and let themselves out through the front door. They ran to near-by Abercorn Place and jumped into a waiting lorry, a furniture removal van, which was driven by an on-the-run IRA man, Jimmy Steele, who had recently liberated himself from Crumlin Road Prison!
Among the escapees were well-known IRA activists Patrick Donnelly, Ned Maguire, Hugh McAteer, Liam Graham and Brendan O’Boyle who, incidentally, was the last man to be helped from the tunnel. Jimmy Drumm was earmarked as the last man and was in the tunnel, yards behind Brendan O’Boyle, when he heard a warning being shouted that the British Army had discovered the exit and were picking-up the men as they emerged – so he turned back, only to discover later that it was a false alarm.
The tunnel had been started in November 1942, in Liam Graham’s cell and, out of the 200 or so IRA prisoners in the jail, 22 had been picked by the prisoners themselves as it was felt that that group could more readily ‘rally the troops’ on the outside as each of them had a high profile in the Movement and were respected by all concerned (except, obviously, by the Brits and the Staters!). An estimated five tons of clay was removed over a five month period and most of it was scattered in the prison grounds, although repeated attempts were made to dispose of some of it via the toilets, which blocked the pipes. A plumbing company was called in on a regular basis over that five month period but, whether they knew what was happening or not, they said nothing and the warders and their bosses knew nothing of the excavation that was then on-going. Indeed, during the last few weeks of the dig, the IRA prisoners had held a ‘mini-fleadh cheoil’ to cover the noise and the constant comings-and-goings from cell to cell and from cell to prison yard.
Jimmy Steele (pictured) and Harry White had each organised to have about 12 men on stand-by on each side of Britain’s border in Ireland to assist with the dispersal of the escapees, the majority of whom were taken to Donegal but, within a day, some of their number had been captured by Free State forces and interned in the Curragh. Others were also captured in that county, in a place called Glentown, and they were then held in a FS barracks in Letterkenny.
That successful escape effort not only helped to refocus world attention on to the then and on-going struggle for national liberation in Ireland, but proved to be a massive morale boost for the Republican Movement – it helped to insure that the flame stayed lit, and brought in new recruits who, in turn, passed the mantle to those who hold the same values today.
‘BRITISH FORCES MUST GO, DEMANDS SINN FÉIN PRESIDENT…’
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, December 1954.
Tomas O’ Dubghaill’s speech to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, 7th November 1954 (…continued).
BRITISH GARRISONS ATTACKED –
“But of course the most significant events during the past year took place in another sphere. I refer to the attacks made by members of the Irish Republican Army on British military garrisons in Ireland.
The daring daylight attack on Armagh Barracks in June last and the capturing of the entire stocks in the armoury under the eyes of the British troops was an exhilarating tonic to our people and made the invaders a laughing stock before the world. But the very perfection of its success tended to distract attention from the real lesson of the Armagh raid. Last month, in the early hours of a Sunday morning, the British garrison in Omagh was attacked and a short fierce gun battle ensued in which five British soldiers and two Volunteers were wounded. The laughter was gone – we were now confronted with stark reality.
And what is that reality ? Is it not that there is still an army of invaders in our country, that England holds six of our counties by force of arms and that the primary task facing our people is to get those invaders out. The continued presence of the British occupation forces is an act of war against the Irish nation – their presence is an insult and a constant challenge to the Irish people. Thank God we still have young men* (‘1169’ comment* – men and women, young and old) willing and able to take up that challenge and to answer it in the only way England has ever understood.
POLITICIANS TRUE TO FORM.
Of course the politicians North and South have united in condemnation – in that, they are running true to form. But it is very interesting to see how close, almost identical, are the efforts of both Stormont and Leinster House spokesmen (see above comment*) to misrepresent the purpose of the Volunteers. The two attacks were made on the British garrisons, the first time England’s troops in Ireland had been attacked since 1921. They were not attacks on fellow Irishmen whether Orange or Green – they were attacks on occupation forces which have absolutely no right to be in Ireland…” (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (20TH MARCH) 258 YEARS AGO : BIRTH OF TONE’S COMRADE, ROBERT ‘TANNER’ SIMMS.
On the 20th March, 1761 – 258 years ago on this date – a child called Robert was born into a middle-class, socially-conscious Presbyterian family in Belfast, and grew into adulthood to become the co-owner of a paper mill in Ballyclare, in County Antrim, and he and his brother, William, were also newspaper publishers – they owned ‘The Northern Star’ newspaper.
When he was 31 years of ago, Robert and a group of like-minded individuals – Protestants, Anglicans and Presbyterians – held a public meeting in Belfast, out of which was formed ‘The Belfast Society of United Irishmen’ (the organisation became a secret society three years later), and one of his colleagues, Sam McTier, was elected as ‘President of the Society’. Also present were Theobald Wolfe Tone (who gave Robert Simms his nickname, ‘Tanner’), Thomas Russell, William Sinclair, Henry Joy McCracken, Samuel Neilson, Henry Haslett, Gilbert McIlveen, William Simms (Robert’s brother), Thomas McCabe, Thomas Pearce and Samuel McTier, among others.
The aims and objectives of the Society were revolutionary for the times that were in it, and brought the organisation to the attention of the less ‘socially-minded’ political (and military) members of the British ruling-class in Dublin, which was then (and, indeed, now!) England’s political power-base in Ireland – “That the weight of English influence in the government of this country is so great, as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce…the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed, is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament…”
The Belfast Society also adopted the ‘Charter’ of ‘The United Irishmen’ as a whole, and in so doing they drew further attention on themselves from their political enemies, at home and abroad – “In the present era of reform, when unjust governments are falling in every quarter of Europe, when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience, when the rights of men are ascertained in theory, and theory substantiated by practice, when antiquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms, against the common sense and common interests of mankind, when all governments are acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory, as they protect their rights and promote their welfare, we think it our duty, as Irishmen, to come forward, and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.
We have no national government, we are ruled by Englishmen, and the servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption, and whose strength is the weakness of Ireland; and these men have the whole of the power and patronage of the country, as means to seduce and subdue the honesty of her representatives in the legislature. Such an extrinsic power, acting with uniform force, in a direction too frequently opposite to the true line of our obvious interest, can be resisted with effect solely by unanimity, decision, and spirit in the people, qualities which may be exerted most legally, constitutionally, efficaciously, by the great measure, essential to the prosperity and freedom of Ireland, an equal representation of all the people in parliament. Impressed with these sentiments…we do pledge ourselves to our country, and mutually to each other…”
Both Robert and his brother, William, served time in Newgate Prison and were transported from there to Fort George Prison in Scotland, and it was between their imprisonment and their deportation that the ‘Northern Star’ office was burned down. When they were released, Robert was appointed to the position of ‘Commander’ of the ‘United Irishmen’ in County Antrim, but never settled-in to the position, as he didn’t believe that he was capable of successfully fulfilling the role and he also felt uneasy about directly challenging the British presence in Ireland unless military assistance was available from the French, but to wait for same was not the preferred option of the organisation overall.
He resigned his position and rumours soon circulated that he had no stomach for battle but, regardless of whether those rumours were true or false, the British still seen him as a threat and arrested him again and, once again, imprisoned him in Fort George. He was released, aged 41, a few months before Emmet’s Rising in 1803, but took no part in same. He maintained his interest in political and social issues until he died, at the age of 82, in 1843, and his death was recorded in the Unionist/pro-British newspaper ‘The Northern Whig’, on the 27th June in 1843, in the following manner –
‘At his house, in Franklin-place, on the 23d instant, Mr. Robert Simms, in the 83rd year of his age. For upwards of thirty years, he discharged, with zealous attention to its interests, the duties of Assistant-Secretary to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.’
No mention, of course, of his duties in attempting to remove the British military and political presence from Ireland. Or, as a comrade of Robert Simms put it – “To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country–these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter – these were my means.”
Robert Simms, born on the 20th March 1761 – 258 years ago on this date – died on the 23rd June, 1843.
LETTER TO ‘THE EDITOR, UI’, FROM EAMON BOYCE, POW.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, January 1955.
Before starting, I want to apologise for the writing etc in this, as it is written out of necessity, in rather a hurry. By now, this ‘trial’ is probably finished ; actually, the whole affair is a bit of a joke. However, I feel proud of being compared, even in this manner, with that great Irish patriot John Mitchel. I regret my present position for one reason – a man in jail is useless to his country*. However, it was God’s Will that events should take this course, and I trust that by our example during this trial, we may have set an example to other young men, and women, too, in Ireland. I am, thank God, an Irishman, and never before has it been brought home to me as forcibly as now. As I looked around me today I thought of these people with a certain amount of pity, of course the mere sight and sound of the English soldiers filled me with revulsion.
However, I hope and pray that our sacrifice will not be in vain – deep down, the Irish people will not fail when they are called. This must sound like a page from ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper but I am merely transferring my feelings to paper. Please convey my warmest wishes to all my comrades and friends and, regarding yourself and your friend, I can honestly say that I feel very honoured and privileged to have known you both so well. I am sorry that events did not work out well, but in one respect we Irish never really fail in our fight.
God is with us, and with His help the time is close at hand when our country will be freed. In this letter I have cast aside all caution, let them produce it in court if they wish, but I would like to know if you receive it intact. Please convey my very warmest wishes to your mother and all the family, also to ‘G’.
Le Gach Beannacht,
(*‘1169’ comment – not so : to date, we have had twenty-two men in prison who proved the opposite of being ‘useless to their country’ and there are other POW’s, too, who, while not yet having gone down that road, are the ‘cement’ around which republicanism increases its strength.)
(END of ‘LETTER TO ‘THE EDITOR, UI’, FROM EAMON BOYCE, POW’. NEXT – ‘TIMES HAVE NOT CHANGED’, from the same source).
ON THIS DATE (20TH MARCH) – IRISH REVOLUTIONARY BORN 135 YEARS AGO AND ASSASSINATED ON THE SAME DATE 99 YEARS AGO.
Tomás MacCurtain (pictured) was born on this date (20th March) in 1884, at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey (Mainstir na Móna), County Cork ; he was the 12th and last child of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. His interest in Irish culture and history led him to join Conradh na Gaeilge, Na Fianna Éireann and the ‘Irish Volunteer’ organisation, which he assisted in establishing in Cork city. He was the first Irish republican to hold the ‘Lord Mayor’ office and was elected to that position on the 31st January 1920, at 36 years of age. He was assassinated by the British at his home in Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool, Cork, between 12.10am and 1.15am on the 20th March 1920, which was his 36th birthday – his killers, dressed in ‘civvies’ and spoke with pronounced English accents. They were RIC members tasked with the ‘job’ by their political bosses in Westminster. He was buried in the Republican Plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork on Monday 22nd March 1920.
“We find that the late Alderman MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, died from shock and hemorrhage caused by bullet wounds, and that he was wilfully murdered under circumstances of the most callous brutality, and that the murder was organised and carried out by the Royal Irish Constabulary, officially directed by the British Government, and we return a verdict of wilful murder against David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England ; Lord French, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland ; Ian McPherson, late Chief Secretary of Ireland ; Acting Inspector General Smith, of the Royal Irish Constabulary ; Divisional Inspector Clayton of the Royal Irish Constabulary ; District Inspector Swanzy and some unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
We strongly condemn the system at present in vogue of carrying out raids at unreasonable hours. We tender to Mrs MacCurtain and family our sincerest sympathy. We extend to the citizens of Cork our sympathy in the loss they have sustained by the death of one so eminently capable of directing their civic administration” – the unanimous verdict of the inquest into the murder of Alderman Tomás MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork and considered by many to be the ‘inventor’ of the ‘Flying Column’ tactic, as read out on 17th April 1920 by Coroner James J. McCabe. Such was the level of international condemnation of the assassination, especially after Lloyd George attempted to blame Irish republicans themselves on having carried it out to generate publicity for their campaign, that Westminster let it be known that they had ‘questioned’ sixty-four of their ‘policemen’ in Ireland along with two British military operatives and thirty-one civilians in connection with the killing.
‘Just God You gave his pure soul to our lady’s safe keeping, now write you his name, ‘mongst our warrior dead..’
WHEN AN IRISH CITIZEN IS NOT A CITIZEN… By Adrian Langan. From ‘Magill’ Magazine, May 2002.
The official position in Irish law is that ‘anyone born in Ireland is automatically an Irish citizen and anyone whose father or mother was Irish at the time of the person’s birth is also automatically Irish’. What other options are there for determining the right to citizenship? You could use jus sanguinis (the ‘law of blood’) which would be highly problematic as it would imply that there is an Irish ‘gene’ or ‘race’ to be identified. The
mechanism at the moment has a wonderful simplicity to it – if you are born here you can stay here and have a full legal entitlement to remain here.
The increasingly globalised economy now means that people are moving across State boundaries and will continue to move. In trade agreements, labour is the one factor of production whose movement is not being liberalised. Despite this, the reality is that more and more people who are not of Irish birth will be living and working in Ireland and they will be having children who will be Irish citizens. What do we do with the relatives of the Irish-citizen baby? Since it is highly unlikely in the current climate that any Irish government (sic) would seek to have a referendum to change any provisions of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ (‘1169’ comment – “Not one of England’s Treaties with Ireland or any Agreement or any Declaration was ever about her leaving us in peace but rather they have been about perpetuating her power in the Six Counties and always at the expense of Irish democracy…” – from here), this question comes into sharp focus.
The position up to this point has been that they are entitled to stay with their children until the child is 18 years of age and, by then, the parents have become naturalised and given full citizenship… (MORE LATER).
Thanks for reading, Sharon.